Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: October 2010

October 2010

Oscar Wilde, Sadist

I found “Three Victorian Morality Tales” by Matthew Anger (Jul.-Aug.) to be of particular interest, because one of the three was about Oscar Wilde, surely one of the most misunderstood figures ever to have entranced the public. In his closing sentence, Anger includes Wilde in his finding that “men very often commit evil in an attempt to avoid it.” This summation ought to be reconsidered in Wilde’s case.

In her peerless book for laymen, Our Inner Conflicts, the late, great psychiatrist Dr. Karen Horney goes into detail concerning a form of sadism that can afflict those in whom a fully developed neurosis brings with it an enveloping sense of hopelessness about one’s life. In sum, this mindset can induce in the sufferer a taste for sadistically mistreating others.

To give expression to his malice, the hopeless individual may seek to create a bizarre situation: To make himself the confidant, mentor, or lover of a vulnerable individual in whom he induces trust and dependence and a belief that theirs is a rare and exclusive relationship. He then exploits the situation to alternately delight, betray, and reassure his companion — to render him defenseless while isolating him from others and progressively reducing him to a diet of minimal emotional sustenance. The victim ultimately sinks to a state of total dependence and degradation, without the will or strength to object or fight free of his abject lot. Thereafter, the sadistic person will give his victim just enough to keep him subservient, until he tires of the game. The aim is to debase the victim utterly and, if possible, finally crush his capacity for joy or happiness.

This scenario seems to occur disproportionately among homosexuals. In such cases, it typically involves an older, more experienced homosexual man forming a liaison with a younger, less experienced man with a vulnerable, dependent personality who is not necessarily consciously homosexual but has proclivities in that direction that can be exploited.

Any careful reading of Wilde’s relationships with younger men will indicate that they involved exploitation and victimhood. It is my belief that his Picture of Dorian Gray is not simply a laudable confession of a lust for eternal, profligate youth, as Anger would have it, but an admission that Wilde knew quite well that the only profound sensation left open to him was the spiritual destruction of others, surely the most unholy appetite imaginable. This proclivity was masked by the public persona Wilde enjoyed as a literary light, wit, and creative scapegrace — a persona that began to unravel in his lifetime.

In my opinion, Wilde has always gotten off lightly. Nevertheless, I congratulate Anger on leading us toward a deepened appreciation of the moral questions involved in the life of this perennial, larger-than-life favorite of the intelligentsia.

Colin Esler

Superior, Montana


Mr. Esler’s interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray bolsters the Christian view that the author’s lifestyle was as harmful to him as it was to the novel’s main character. Yet even while mired in his own vices, Wilde was groping toward a spiritual vision that was quite Catholic. For that reason, I think the story can still be read in those terms. Wilde’s deathbed conversion lends further weight to such a view.

As for the mixed motives that go into a piece of art, what matters most, I think, is what is in the foreground. We pay attention to the religious and aesthetic subjects of Raphael’s famous Madonnas, and not the fact that the model used may have been his mistress. In the same way, most readers of Wilde’s tale still take away the Christian message of sin’s destructiveness while the less noble elements fade into the background.

From Altar Girls to Womenpriests?

Reading about the shenanigans of the Women’s Ordination Conference (“It Can’t Happen Here — Can It?” New Oxford Note, Jul.-Aug.) makes me wonder if the Church is creating this problem by allowing “altar girls” to serve at Mass. It seems logical that a child serving a good priest might admire and want to follow his way of life. Has there been any indication that, after serving at the altar, these girls are seeking to enter religious life? I suspect not. But they might be very sympathetic to groups that promote the ordination of women.

Mary H. Stone

Allentown, Pennsylvania

Your New Oxford Note “It Can’t Happen Here — Can It?” made mention of the demise of Janine Denomme, a Catholic woman who was (invalidly) ordained — and who therefore incurred automatic excommunication — a month before her death. An obituary in The Detroit News (May 28) reports that a “memorial service” was to be held for Ms. Denomme on May 29 at Nativity Catholic Church in Detroit. The pastor there is, shall we say, not distinguished for his robust orthodoxy. While not a funeral Mass, this could be an attempted end-run around the ban enforced by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

John E. Doyle

Grass Lake, Michigan

The conclusion of your New Oxford Note “It Can’t Happen Here — Can It?” really bothered me. It read: “Those who have excommunicated themselves by violating this doctrine [that the Catholic priesthood is reserved to men], if they refuse to humble themselves before the authority of Peter, would certainly rate a heroine’s welcome within the Anglican fold, where they would receive the comfort of like-minded companions. Together they could enjoy the slide into oblivion. God help them.”

What is happening in the Anglican Communion must be very disheartening to some Anglicans and Episcopalians, just as the clerical sexual-abuse scandal has been very disheartening to us Catholics. It’s all right to give warning to those who claim to be Catholics, but we don’t need to insult the Anglicans. These types of snide comments do not seem suitable for a Christian publication.

Margaret Finley

Long Beach, California


Your point is well taken. The conclusion we drew was that there is no possibility that the doctrine of the all-male Catholic priesthood will ever be changed. Thank goodness. We suggested that those dissident Catholics who favor women’s ordination, and who refuse to submit to the teaching of the Church, would be welcomed with open arms into the Anglican Communion, which has officially ordained women for some 35 years. But we thought it necessary to warn of the utter devastation women’s ordination brings with it. As explained in the preceding New Oxford Note, “City of Confusion — Part II,” the Anglican Communion is teetering on the precipice of ruin. The future of Anglican­ism is at stake, and the prospects don’t look good. Hence, the “slide into oblivion” remark. This, we fear, is what awaits those intransigent Anglicans who wish not only to preserve a co-ed priesthood, but who are agitating for women bishops, divorced bishops, openly homosexual bishops, etc.

For those disheartened Anglicans who long for a Church that hasn’t jettisoned Scripture and tradition, the choice is clear: take advantage of the new canonical structure created by Anglicanorum Coetibus, Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic constitution that allows Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church while retaining their spiritual and liturgical patrimony. For the rest, well, God help them. And God help us too. Our help is always in Him.

Celibate Catholic Priests, Married Catholic Priests

George Buddleighton (“A Married Priesthood: Why Not?” guest column, Jul.-Aug.) is correct in one of his three arguments supporting a non-married priesthood, and badly off-base in his other two.

He soundly recognizes that a married man’s primary duty is to his family, and that a married priest risks serious conflicts. But moving to a new post would by no means be an “immensely complicated” experience for married clergymen. The Protestants manage it all the time.

Particularly feeble is his argument that a married clergy would create a “priestly caste.” One can hardly deny the Christian holiness of many Protestant clergymen, regardless of any theological error, and if their sons, inspired by their fathers, also answer the call to Christian ministry, this is hardly bad.

Robert P. Hilldrup

Richmond, Virginia

I read recently that prolife activist and former Anglican priest Paul Schenck was ordained a Catholic priest. He is also the father of eight. The ordination of Schenck and other high-church Protestant converts, in addition to thriving Eastern-rite parishes, should at least open the discussion of lifting the ban on married priests in the Roman rite. If the Church should ever decide to change the ban on marriage, let us pray that it was done in the best interests of the Church and not out of intimidation from the secular media’s sexual agenda, spearheaded by The New York Times‘s editorial board.

Roman Catholic Priests have voluntarily given up wives, sex, children, and money for Christ. Their sacrifice is truly commendable and holy. Yet I do not think easing the celibacy rule would diminish their sacrifice any more than the present situation of ordaining married Protestant clergymen does. If celibacy is truly a prerequisite for ordination and religious life, then how does one explain the holiness and reverence among Eastern-rite clergymen? Are they any less Catholic than our Latin-rite clergymen because they are married? I don’t think so.

Brian Copp

Camas, Washington

George Buddleighton writes that “Pope Benedict XVI’s generous new apostolic constitution, Angli­canorum Coetibus…has provisions to allow already married Anglican clergymen to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests.” Everyone should be pleased with the Pope’s evangelizing action. However, Buddleigh­ton neglected to tell the “whole truth” of the apostolic constitution — namely, that new vocations from among former Anglicans would be required to be celibate. In fact, Buddleighton fails to give the whole truth throughout his column.

Also misleading is his statement that “historically there are more seminarians than ever worldwide….” In the worldwide Catholic Church, the lay faithful have increased from 558,220,054 in 1962 to 1,146,656,000 in 2009 — an increase of 205 percent. Seminarians numbered 97,678 in 1962 and 115,480 in 2009 — an increase of only 18 percent. A proportionate increase of laity and seminarians from 1962 to today would translate 200,239 seminarians, nearly twice what we currently have. During the same time period, the number of priests declined from 421,609 to 408,074.

Buddleighton’s basic deficit in knowledge of the 22 particular Eastern Churches in communion with Rome is evident throughout. His statements directly oriented toward preserving the man-made mandate of celibacy at all costs are especially insulting to my particular Rusyn Catholic Church. We have always had an oversupply of priests and no shortage to speak of, except in the U.S. during the past century, due to the suppression by the U.S. bishops of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which was approved by the late Pope John Paul II in 1990. The reason the Rusyn Church, and most of the other 21 particular Catholic Churches, enjoy an overabundance of vocations is because we cherish both our canonical married and celibate priests.

In the Divine Liturgy of the Rusyn Catholic Church we pray to the Lord for vocations, and we join the Roman Catholics in their prayers for the same. We also pray that our overburdened bishops will lead us into the third millennium with an oversupply of quality priests. Quality is chosen from quantity. It is critical that the readers of the NOR be prayerfully involved in this effort, and our willingness to confront the whole truth will enable us to address this problem more effectively.

Joseph P. Bonchonsky

Mt. Shasta, California

As an Eastern Catholic, I hasten to remind George Buddleighton that a celibate clergy is not a dogma of the Church but a clerical discipline of the Western Latin rite. Numerous Eastern Catholic Churches have had, and continue to have, married clergymen. The Latin Church decided, many centuries ago, that it would limit its clergy to the ranks of those who have discerned that they are not called to a vocation of marriage but of celibacy. This is its right, of course. What I object to — and may I say, rather strenuously — is the manner in which Latin-rite Catholics discuss this. When the issue of having a married priesthood is broached, those of the West treat it as if it were (1) a dogma of the Church on a par with the Nicene Creed, and therefore not to be tampered with, or (2) given to the ancient bishops of the Church by the very voice of God and therefore unchangeable. Both attitudes are reprehensible, both in the way they are treated and the way that we, who do have a married clergy, are also treated. The Eastern Churches have had no little trouble over this in the U.S., and to this day we are still denied the same married clergy that our sister Churches in the Ukraine and other European countries enjoy.

There needs to be a substantive discussion of this issue along these lines: Are we Eastern Catholics, who have a married clergy, fully Catholic, or are we some form of heretic or schismatic dissident? If we are neither of the latter, then the Western Church needs to stop pretending that it alone enjoys the only full and orthodox Catholicism by its insistence upon an unmarried clergy.

That is the attitude that we in the East often must endure, and Buddleighton’s column reeks of it by throwing up straw men and then knocking them down. He states: “In reality the celibacy requirement is a recognition that the duties of marriage should not be compromised by the competing demands of priesthood.” May I call this pure and unadulterated horse manure? If you follow this line of thinking, then there should be no soldiers who go overseas to protect our country, no doctors who work 12-hour shifts every day, no men in professions that endanger their lives and threaten to leave their families without leadership and sustenance. Unless Bud­dleigh­ton can prove — and believe me, he cannot — that the priesthood is a 24/7 job that requires every spare second of a man’s life without let-up, then this argument fails.

What of the wives and children of priests in Europe? Has anyone done a study to ask them if they feel neglected by the duties of their husband/father? I have yet to see one. It is just an a priori assumption on the part of the defenders of celibacy that to be a priest means that one’s family would get the short end of the stick.

One might point to the shortage of priests and state that, because of such a shortage, a priest in a parish of 4,000 souls would be hard-pressed to fulfill both his marital and priestly duties. But this is a self-fulfilling problem, for if the priesthood were open to married men, one would find the shortage of priests to be soon remedied, and multiple priests available to service the largest of parishes.

Buddleighton also states that “moving to a new post on the orders of his superior would be immensely complicated if the interests of a family had to be considered, and the faithful would have the extra burden of contributing to the support of the family as well as of the priest himself.” This is again patent nonsense. Families are forced to move all the time on the demand of employers or the military. As for the issue of the support of the priest, perhaps if Catholics were not so niggardly with their money this would not be an issue. A study done many years ago on tithing showed that, on average, Catholics give not even one percent of their income to the Church! Perhaps some shaming of the faithful by the bishops is in order, reminding them of the warning of our late Holy Father, John Paul II, against the materialism that steals from the Church by having us enslaved to buying worthless capitalist trinkets while the poor go hungry and the priests unpaid.

A man may indeed be called to make of himself a “eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” but Western Catholics must stop inferring that such a man is somehow holier than a man who has responded to the vocation of marriage, or is more fit for the priesthood by dint of so following his vocation. Somehow Western Catholics interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:12 as saying that only those who have made themselves eunuchs are fit to serve the Kingdom. That’s the kind of “reading into a verse” that I constantly have to combat in my apologetics with Protestants.

While it is true that a celibate priest is a wonderful picture of giving up all for the service of the Kingdom of God, it is equally true that a married priest is a wonderful picture of the relationship between the members of the Trinity. Married life is a picture of the Blessed Trinity, according to Pope John Paul II in his marvelous theology of the body.

Buddleighton’s column is really just an exercise in defending a prejudice that is not a dogma of the Church. Neither does it have support from Christian history, since the Apostles and the early Church leaders were married. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 a proposal to require celibacy for all priests was defeated, and at the Council of Trullo in 692 marriage rights for priests were reasserted.

I am not against the Western Church selecting its priests only from the ranks of the celibate. But as long as this is the practice, Western Catholics should refrain from moaning about not having enough priests when it is your rite’s choice to severely limit the selection pool.

Edward A. Hara

Enola, Pennsylvania


First, allow me to explain that my column was originally written for European — specifically Irish — readers. Second, it was updated following the release of Anglicanorum Coetibus. Perhaps that is why it reads somewhat strangely to American ears. My intent was to answer those critics of the practice who cannot see any value in celibacy.

I am saddened that some Eastern-rite Catholics mistook my defense of celibacy as demeaning of their clergy. I must apologize for this: Here in Ireland we have little contact with the Eastern rites, though I have personally been very impressed by the few such priests I met when I was involved in bringing children from Ukraine and Belarus to Ireland on holidays after the disaster at Chernobyl.

That the duties to a wife and family could be seriously compromised is obvious to me; I have frequently seen it among my medical colleagues. I spent some years as a hospital doctor working the sort of shifts now forbidden, and then several decades in a single-handed family practice. It was understood that hospital assignments, like military service, were only for young men and for a maximum of a few years. It was generally accepted that no one over 35 should be involved in a specialty like full-time obstetrics!

The point I was trying to make in saying that a married priesthood could result in a priestly caste is not that the sons of clergymen would not make good priests, but that the priesthood would become disconnected from the average layman. I am not familiar with the situation in the U.S., but in Europe, particularly among the Anglican/Episcopal churches, the clergy are now a subsection of the upper middle class and have little contact with “the masses.” Thus a recent British prime minister was referred to disparagingly as “a son of the manse” and therefore out of touch.

Illegal Immigration: Uncharitable & Expensive:

In his article “Four Sins that Cry to Heaven” (Jul.-Aug.), Thomas Storck writes that employers who pay illegal aliens an unjust wage are guilty of one of these sins: “grinding the faces of the poor.”

I say that anyone who knowingly hires an illegal alien or neglects to notify authorities of the known presence of an illegal alien in the U.S. is lacking in charity toward all Americans, and especially toward those who have come from other countries, faithfully fulfilled all the requirements, and become U.S. citizens.

Why should these and all other American taxpayers be forced to pay for medical expenses, education, etc., of those who have come here illegally? Not only do those people break the law by coming here illegally, they make life miserable for so many Americans who live in the states bordering Mexico.

(Name Withheld)


Catholic teaching is clear: It is a duty of justice to pay a living wage to one’s employees and to provide decent working conditions. If one has employed illegal aliens, one still has this duty.

Immigration policy is a very complex matter, and was not the main theme of my article. But the crux of the problems we now face is that the corporate interests that pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through in the mid-1990s have been profiting at the expense of both ordinary Americans and ordinary Mexicans. After reading about the horrific journeys illegal immigrants undertake just to get to the U.S., one is compelled to ask why they would do so if they could make a decent living back home. Mexico used to be self-sufficient in food production, but NAFTA has ruined family farming, with much farmland now devoted to exports. Moreover, the increasing drug violence there makes things even worse, crippling the economy and pushing young men north. But one must ask why there is this drug violence. The answer is that the insatiable U.S. appetite for drugs has created another lucrative export market. Do we as a nation not have a large degree of responsibility for this situation?

The best response, the truly Catholic and charitable response, is to see both Americans and Mexicans as jointly suffering from corporate greed, aided (as happens routinely now) by government complicity. It is sad to see American Catholics looking upon their fellow Latino Catholics as evil interlopers, instead of asking such elementary questions as: Why are they coming here? How did conditions in Mexico and Latin America get so bad as to drive entire populations out? Have U.S. economic policies and consumption habits made conditions there worse?

The only real long-term solution is to understand the causes of immigration, not simply to rail at the effects.

Cheaper Than a Tank of Gas

I am a recent subscriber and I’ve been enlightened by every article I’ve read thus far. Good luck raising the funds you need. Here’s a bit of money toward that goal.

Right now you’re the best deal in town: $19 doesn’t even buy a tank of gas anymore. By all means, raise your subscription fees!

Jennifer Sutter

Los Angeles, California

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